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COMMENTARY: Study Linking Relaxers to Cancer is “Fake News”

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump says manufacturers have “aggressively misled Black women to increase their profits.” He recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a client who contracted uterine cancer after using chemical hair straightening products sold by L’Oréal USA. Cheryl Morrow, daughter of Black haircare legend Dr. Willie L. Morrow delivered this letter to Crump and his co-counsel.

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Cheryl Morrow, daughter of Black haircare legend Dr. Willie L. Morrow.
Cheryl Morrow, daughter of Black haircare legend Dr. Willie L. Morrow.

By Cheryl Morrow | Special to California Black Media

A major study by the National Institute of Health (NHI) found that women who received hair relaxer treatments at least four times a year had a three times greater risk of uterine cancer. A previous study found a 30% increased risk of breast cancer.

Manufacturers are currently facing lawsuits across the country, because, according to the plaintiffs, they failed to warn them about the cancer risks associated with exposure to toxic chemicals in products.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump says manufacturers have “aggressively misled Black women to increase their profits.” He recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a client who contracted uterine cancer after using chemical hair straightening products sold by L’Oréal USA.

Cheryl Morrow, daughter of Black haircare legend Dr. Willie L. Morrow delivered this letter to Crump and his co-counsel, and it reads:

“I am the daughter of the greatest textured [hair] beauty scientist in the history of the world, and a legatee of the only industrial revolution for American-born Africans. It is my opinion, American-born Africans represent the greatest human ascent in the modern civilized world as well as in human history.

“Enough is enough.” The exploitation of Black health for profit is ENOUGH!

The latest study of relaxers being linked and making Black women three times more susceptible to uterine cancer is simple junk research. This is an attack. I am taking the NIH study as an attack on our legacy.

What researchers seem to be missing, is that out of all the so-called corrosive salon treatments all races of women receive, relaxers are the one that carry the least amount of processing time. This simply means that researchers have not taken this into consideration, the time exposure factor.

Ben Crump and attorney Diandra Zimmerman, along with their client Jenny Mitchell, blindly filed this lawsuit while being grossly ill-informed.

If you, Attorney Crump want to chase a lawsuit because you think L’Oréal has deep pockets and money to blow just to save its face, I will push to encourage them not to do so. This will cast a stain on an ethical industry and will be an atrocity for an industry that has built enormous wealth and power for Black America.

I will not allow the propaganda machine’s random research to destroy and wither our industrial juggernaut with false concern and hidden agendas. This is fake news and junk research at its best.

I am all for research as my late father Willie Morrow, the greatest scientific mind in the history of beauty science, we’ve had always blazed the trail toward safe innovation for the Black haircare industry. The language attorney Crump and his co-counsel are using is reckless and feckless.

Black hair care is not predatory, and it sickens me to receive countless calls from my peers having to defend our profession from layperson idiocy and bloodthirsty lawyers.

Having spent 19 years in New York City, I have also devoted expertise in this area. This is not about me defending the giant beauty conglomerate L’Oréal — Lord knows I have had my issues with corporate run beauty companies, but food for thought here; the lack of state governed cosmetology boards addressing the scientific aspects of hair and scalps of textured hair Americans and the distinct way it grows and thrives, it just goes to show that all hair (textures) aren’t the same after all.

The apathetic way in which state boards and state policy makers focus on minor issues like cultural styling, which falls under the First Amendment freedom of expression clause, doesn’t deter discrimination from occurring. However, junk research is more sinister. It is about affecting economic bottom lines.

I will not have this happen!

Hair straightener (relaxer), or better known as lye, is a plantation concoction and was originally a Black man’s thing called the Konkaline aka “The Conk” trend.

This was formulated, mixed in the kitchens on plantations and slave camps of America. This was created by Africans on plantations due to our native-born styling implements not accompanying us to the Western world.

Having served as an expert witness in many Black haircare litigations for defendants, relaxers fall under the FDA’s category of depilatories.

This means it is a dissolver and not a penetrator. The nature of high alkaline pH treatments doesn’t interact with skin as you would like them to, nor do they work like most industry professionals, state board officials and chemists have educated us to believe they do.

This is the ignorance my father Willie L. Morrow tried to combat in 1982, but his efforts fell on deaf ears. Correcting this malfeasance is most urgent.

Every state board in the United States should also be sued if you want to go the lawsuit route. To be frank, because the consumer also has a home-based version and buys it at their own discretion, like tap faucet water, your eagerness to pick up on the NIH’s study that is not conclusive is beneath the oath you took when you became an attorney, my dear sir.

I have, and am willing, to educate all Americans and all adjacent professional industries that will join me in making beauty safer. We are a proud industry, with high ethics and I do not appreciate this assassination of Black haircare.

My father would be a soldier in this attack. We have worked countless years and have amassed the most extensive and invaluable texture enhancement scientific data in the industry to date. Black haircare is leading in this regard. Our research is rooted in Afro-textured [hair] science, these findings are sound research that show a different picture on the overall health risks for Black women who relax.

We do have a lot of work to do, however. My legacy will be to return Black haircare to its glory era, the one that I grew up in, the industry that has and should continue to make Black America economically sovereign to create its own version of the American dream.

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Black History

Rep. Karen Bass Makes History as L.A.’s First Black Woman Mayor

“The challenges we face affect us all, and all of us must be a part of our solutions,” said Mayor-Elect Karen Bass in a prepared statement. “Los Angeles is the greatest city on Earth. I know, if we come together, hold each other accountable, and focus on the best of who we are and what we can achieve, we can create better neighborhoods today and a better future for our children.”

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Mayor-Elect Karen Bass addressing supporters on election night, Nov. 8, 2022. Maxim Elramsisy, California Black Media
Mayor-Elect Karen Bass addressing supporters on election night, Nov. 8, 2022. Maxim Elramsisy, California Black Media

By Maxim Elramsisy | California Black Media

“This is my home, and with my whole heart, I’m ready to serve, and my pledge to you is that we will hit the ground running on Day One,” Los Angeles Mayor-elect, Rep. Karen Bass announced Nov. 16 after the Associated Press (AP) declared her the projected winner in a tight race for the top job in California’s largest city.

Bass, who has represented the 37th Congressional District of California for 11 years, will be the first woman to lead Los Angeles when she is sworn in on Dec. 12, 2022. She will also be the second Black Angelino to hold the office in a city where 8.8% of residents are Black, according to the U.S. Census.

Before Bass was elected to Congress in 2010, she previously served as a member of the California State Assembly representing the 47th district from 2004 to 2010. From 2008 to 2010 she was the first Black woman to be State Assembly speaker.

In the U.S Congress, Bass represented West Los Angeles and from 2019 to 2021 served as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Her opponent, businessman Rick Caruso, conceded that Bass had won the election Wednesday evening, just over a week after the polls closed in the deadlocked race that election watchers said until this week had no apparent winner until now.

A former Republican turned Democrat, Caruso told his supporters in a letter “the campaign has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am so proud of my campaign. We held true to the core values of our family – integrity, honesty, and respect for all.”

A billionaire real estate developer, Caruso owns residential and retail properties around Southern California, including The Grove at Farmers Market in Los Angeles, Americana at Brand in Glendale and the Commons at Calabasas.

The vote was virtually tied on Election Day, but each subsequent update to the tally extended the lead for Bass. The counting will continue until every ballot is accounted for, but according to the AP, she has accrued an insurmountable lead.

Almost 75% of voters in L.A. County voted by mail in this election, contributing to some of the delay in announcing a winner.

According to California state law, each mail-in ballot must have its signature verified before it can be counted, and ballots are received for seven days after the election, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

A record amount of money was spent on the race, with Caruso’s campaign vastly outspending Bass. The Caruso campaign reported a total expenditure of $104,848,887.43.

Caruso himself contributed almost $98 million to his own campaign, which he spent primarily on advertising.

“Despite being outspent 12 to 1, Congresswoman Karen Bass proved L.A. voters can’t be bought,” said Kerman Maddox, the finance committee chair of Bass 4 Mayor.

Vastly outspent from the start of her candidacy, Bass also won the June 7 primary election.

Bass benefited from endorsements from Democrats at all levels of government, including former President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, California Senator Alex Padilla and the Los Angeles Democratic Party. One notable holdout was Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Kellie Todd Griffin, Convening Founder of the California Black Women’s Collective — a collective of hundreds of Black women from various professional backgrounds across the state — referenced Bass’ background as a strong and respected voice for Los Angeles’ African American community.

“This is a victory that we are all vested in because it represents the power of what we can do through community organizing and collaboration,” Griffin said. “Mayor-Elect Bass is the change we need right now to ensure today’s most pressing issues will be addressed in a way that doesn’t leave us behind. We are proud because this a victory for Black women and our community.”

Bass is well known across Los Angeles for building cross-cultural, multi-racial coalitions of people and being able to rally them around causes.

During the crack epidemic of the 1980s, she was a physician’s assistant and a clinical instructor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC Physician Assistant Program who became a leading voice for victims affected by the highly addictive substance derived from cocaine.

Bass promised that her administration will be inclusive and “will bring everyone to the table.”

“The challenges we face affect us all, and all of us must be a part of our solutions,” she said in a prepared statement. “Los Angeles is the greatest city on Earth. I know, if we come together, hold each other accountable, and focus on the best of who we are and what we can achieve, we can create better neighborhoods today and a better future for our children.”

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Activism

March Against Fear: When ‘Black Power’ Became Mainstream

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

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James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)
James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)

By Tamara Shiloh

It was June 5, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born 1933), on a mission to encourage Black voter registration and defy entrenched racism in the South, set out on a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

On the second day of his journey, Aubrey Norvell, a white gunman, waited on a roadside a few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi. He ambushed Meredith, shooting him in the neck, head, and back.

Within 24 hours, the nation’s three principal civil rights organizations vowed to continue the march: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Success of the event could not be predicted. Leaders were aware that last-minute planning of a march could be dangerous, and the route chosen was not without uncertainty. The three-week march led to death threats, arrests, and the use of tear gas. Internal tensions surrounding leadership swelled and use of the slogan “Black Power” became a revolutionary phrase urging self-determination and Black pride.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of Black veterans from World War II who believed in armed self-defense, provided protection for participants. Founded in Jonesboro, La., in 1964, The Deacons for Defense had already protected civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan. About 20 chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The march ended on June 22, 1966. Meredith, sufficiently recovered, had been able to rejoin the event. Participants supporting Meredith along the way joined in, making the total number of marchers arriving in Jackson about 15,000. The March Against Fear was one of the largest marches in history for that geographical area. It was during the post-march rally that Stokely Carmichael first used the phrase “we want Black Power” during a public speech.

Carmichael sought to define the quest for Black Power in constructive terms, explaining to supporters in Detroit that “Black votes created Black Power…That doesn’t mean that we are anti-white. We are just developing Black pride.”

Meredith had become well known when he successfully challenged the Kennedy administration to protect his civil rights. His application for admission to the University of Mississippi, dubbed Ole Miss, had been twice denied. With backing from the NAACP, he filed suit for racial discrimination.

After heavy negotiations with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Meredith was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss but only under escort of federal troops. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

Understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change in Anne Bausum’s “The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.”

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Activism

Panel Discusses Supreme Court Case Threatening End of Affirmative Action

On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools. The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).

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On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools. The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).
“(Ending Affirmative Action) essentially, completely upends our ability to level the playing field and remediate for centuries of discrimination and marginalization,” said panelist Lisa Holder, an attorney and president of Equal Justice Society (EJS).

By Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

A webinar hosted by ChangeLawyers, the American Constitution Society (ACS) Bay Area, and Equal Justice Society was held Nov. 15 to discuss the possible outcomes of the pending decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the case of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard.

The online event titled, “The End of Affirmative Action: How SCOTUS Is Coming After BIPOC Students” delved into the impact of banning the consideration of race as a factor during the college admissions process.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students would be affected by such a ruling, said panelist Lisa Holder, an attorney and president of Equal Justice Society (EJS). EJS is an Oakland-based nonprofit and civil rights organization that does work geared toward transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social sciences, and the arts.

“(Ending Affirmative Action) essentially, completely upends our ability to level the playing field and remediate for centuries of discrimination and marginalization,” said Holder. “If you do not have intervention and take affirmative steps to counteract continued systemic racism, it’s going to take hundreds of years to repair those gaps. It will not happen by itself.”

Holder is also a member of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, a nine-member panel established after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3121, authored by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber. The task force is investigating the history and costs of slavery in California and is charged with recommending an appropriate remedy for the state to implement.

Also participating on the End of Affirmative Action panel were Sally Chen, education equity program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Sarah C. Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for the University of Michigan Law School.

Shilpa Ram — senior staff attorney for Education Equity, Public Advocates and a board member of the ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter — was the moderator.

On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools.

The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).

SFFA argues that Harvard instituted a race-conscious admissions program that discriminated against Asian American applicants. SFFA also alleges that UNC is violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, by unfairly using race to provide preference to underrepresented minority applicants to the detriment of white and Asian American applicants.

Chen, of Chinese for Affirmative Action, is a first-generation college graduate from a working-class immigrant family. She is an alumna of Harvard College. She was one of eight students and alumni that gave oral testimony in support of affirmative action in the 2018 federal lawsuit Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard.

“Particularly as these cases were taking advantage of a claim that Asian American students don’t benefit from Affirmative Action or are harmed; we really saw how this was a misrepresentation of our community needs,” Chen said of hers and seven other students’ testimonies. “My testimony really spoke to that direct experience and making clear that Asian American students and communities are in support of affirmative action.”

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, requiring all government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to expand job opportunities for minorities.

Fifty-seven years later, a decision by SCOTUS could be reached at the end of the current term in late June or early July 2023 banning affirmative action. The decision would dismantle race-conscious admission policies that overwhelmingly help BIPOC students create a better future for themselves, members of the panel stated.

“Schools take race into account as a factor in admission because that is the single-best, most effective way to create a racially diverse class,” Zearfoss said.

Zearfoss directs the University of Michigan Law School Jurist Doctorate (JD) and Master of Law (LLM) admissions and supervises the Office of Financial Aid.

California ended affirmative action policies in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 209.

Prop 209 states that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons based on race in public employment, public education, and public contracting.

Proposition 16 was a constitutional amendment designed to repeal Prop 209, but the initiative was defeated by voters in 2020. Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber introduced the legislation that was the basis for Prop 16 when she was a state Assemblymember for the 79th District.

“When we no longer live in a white supremacist society then we can start thinking about ending these interventions that are necessary to counteract preferences for white people that exist and continue to exist,” Holder said.

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